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St. James Leader Journal (Op-Ed): U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt: What are the Mumps?

June 19, 2016

“What are the Mumps?” That’s what my 11-year-old son Charlie asked on a recent visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He was looking at a timeline of groundbreaking medical breakthroughs that have effectively wiped out many of the diseases that plagued our country for generations. It wasn’t too long ago that every 11-year-old knew what mumps were. It goes to show what biomedical research has done to help Americans live longer, healthier lives. That’s why, as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, I’ve been proud to lead efforts to increase our commitment to biomedical research and advance progress toward new, live-saving cures.

This year, the Senate is on track to provide the National Institutes of Health a $2 billion increase for the second year in a row, while eliminating a total of 36 ineffective or duplicative programs topping $1.25 billion and finding other savings. Last year, we secured the first increase NIH had received in over a decade. We did it by making tough choices in other parts of the budget, and directing funding toward programs that will have the most benefit for the most Americans, from autism to cancer to Alzheimer’s.

For example, the bill provides a $400 million increase to advance Alzheimer’s research. That’s a 40 percent increase over last year’s level, and a 120 percent increase in the last two years.

There are currently more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to reach 16 million by 2050. At that time, the cost to treat and care for those suffering from the disease is expected to top $1.1 trillion a year, or twice the amount we currently spend to defend the country.

Without a medical breakthrough to prevent, slow, or stop the disease, Medicare and Medicaid-related costs could rise nearly five-fold. Yet for every $161 Medicare and Medicaid spend on caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, the federal government spends only $1 on Alzheimer’s research.

The bill also provides a significant increase for the Precision Medicine Initiative, a program the committee began last year which utilizes specific genetic, environmental, and lifestyle data to tailor treatments to individuals. Precision medicine is particularly critical when it comes to advancing cancer research and treatment. All cancers aren’t the same and all people aren’t the same. A few years ago more than twenty percent of the work to discover how the human genome works was done at Washington University in Missouri.

A recent clinical trial for a genetic test known as MammaPrint found that as many as half of patients who were slated for chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery based on traditional clinical assessments did not actually require the treatment. The study confirms what I heard from doctors and researchers at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis earlier this year, who told me that developing targeted therapies through precision medicine has the potential to save patients unnecessary – and often aggressive treatment – while driving down health care costs. It’s important to continue the National Cancer Institute’s efforts relating to precision medicine.

It is imperative that we spend every taxpayer dollar wisely. Having had the privilege of meeting with survivors, advocates, medical researchers, and families that have lost loved ones throughout our state, we need to eliminate things that aren’t working and prioritize health research that benefits individuals, families, and taxpayers. We are doing that now, and it must continue in the years ahead. I will continue fighting to make that happen, in the hopes that one day my son’s children will ask, “what is cancer?” Or, “what is Alzheimer’s?”

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